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  • Writer's pictureStefanie Barnfather

Monthly Reads

It's my final blog of the year! I know -- so damned exciting.

To end on a bold note (ha! writing pun), here's my Monthly Read wrap-up. Looking for book recommendations? Check out what literary shenanigans I got up to in November and December.

LIFE CEREMONY by Sayaka Murata

This book of short stories is mind blowing.

Relatable prose.

Love it.

Realistic characters.

Really love it.

What the Frak is happening?!

Love it so much I don't care!

Set in modern -- or futuristic -- or alternate-reality Japan, various protagonists go about their daily lives: preparing food, attending school and engaging in their careers. But each of their story's twists around a bizarre premise.

Humans are turned into luxury clothing and furniture after they die; ceremonial insemination ritualistically occurs after eating dead friends; and a building-like woman cares for her colleagues as though they were -- literally -- her own internal organs.

I've already said it and I'll say it again -- I LOVED IT! If you like gentle, crawling-under-your-skin horror that leaves you feeling nauseated and questioning your world views, I highly recommend.


Holy cricket, I enjoyed this book.

Humorous anecdotes.


Relatable writing.

Very important.

Topic exploration in depth and with breadth.

Mmmmmmm... breadth.

It's no secret I'm a fan of Canadian author (and veterinarian), Philipp Schott. His detective series is top on my list of go-to reads, and I'm thrilled to say his books of real-life shorts will be added to the pile.

With humour, elegance and grit, Dr. Schott shares stories about his roots in veterinary medicine -- and the more delightful characters he encountered at his practice. From territorial rabbits to self-serving seeing eye dogs, the animals steal the show with their owners vying for a close second.

But these short stories aren't all fur babies and their hairy handlers. Along with charming canaries, Dr. Schott includes advice -- both professional and personal -- and important insights about human nature through the lens of a creature caregiver. If you read this book you'll be touched, moved, filled with delight -- and you'll definitely think twice before attending your next pet appointment.


Heart Stopper.

Lyrical prose.


Gut-check realism.


Tenuously balanced emotional fragility.

Aren't vulnerable characters the best?

Jenny Offill's compilation of speculative reflections defies logical structure by hovering in the realm of our subconscious that understands literary depth without the author having to over-explain. Her writing is simplistic. Effortless. It feels flawless.

This story follows the musings of the wife as she meets her husband, has their child, navigates painful one-sided infidelity and begins her gradual journey towards healing. But the wife -- the narrator -- describes her speculations in fits and starts, pieces and paragraphs, philosophical reflections and dire, direct statements.

I found this book to be ineffably sad.

The wife weaves her world with the yarn of uncertainty, and we're led through her twirling psyche by a leader who doesn't know where she's going -- and who often desires a permanent ending. It's beautiful, spans the spectrum of artistic exploration and is deeply relatable.

BEFORE THE COFFEE GETS COLD by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

This novel is charming. I was charmed!

Clean, delightful descriptions.


Sweetly poignant plot.


Bizarre, speculative premise.

*evil grin*

Kawaguchi's 2015 breakout book takes you into the hearts of an endearing cast of characters, into the world of an ancient underground cafe -- and through time.

Have you ever wanted to replay a single moment of your life? Not to undo the past (because you can't) or change the future (that would break the rules) but to find peace, closure or understanding about a hardship you're experiencing in the present? In this speculative fiction story set in modern-day Japan, the characters can.

Lovers find each other. Partners reaffirm their relationship. Sisters heal old wounds and family finds their purpose. Told in Kawaguchi's light, uplifting style, this story brings together couples while clarifying the unknown -- all under the guidance of quirky cafe regulars and a ghost who curses visitors who ask for too much.

It's cute, fun and deliciously odd. I can't wait to explore the other two books in the series.


This collection of holiday short stories by beloved Canadian storyteller, Stuart McLean, is one of my all-time favourites.





Timeless nostalgia.

:) :) :)

McLean was well known as a Canadian radio giant, and his holiday tales that follow the escapades of our beloved Eastern family -- Dave, Morley, Stephanie and Sam -- are pulled from his popular CBC program, THE VINYL CAFE.

Dave cooks his trukey. Polly Anderson hosts her annual bash where dozens of children get thoroughly smashed (on alcohol...). Morley and Sam agonize over homemade gift giving while Stephanie watches them struggle with a sneer on her lips, but love in her heart.

If you like short stories, 1990's Canadiana content and tales that will have you laughing as you cry, you'll love it.

"...there isn't a better time for foolish love than during these dark days of winter." -- Stuart McLean, 1948-2017


Another one of my seasonal favs.


Of course.




Gimme gimme.

An estranged family gathers for the holidays. Some members return home to right past wrongs, some want to secure their financial future -- and one arrives to kill.

With confidence, reason and flair, Poirot takes on his most unusual case yet: to discover how the family's patriarch was brutally -- and bloodily -- murdered in a locked room. Motives arise, tempers burst, and Hercule observes it all from behind his manicured 'stache.

Just like every classic Christie, when the killer is revealed your mind is blown. Ho Ho Ho!

A CHRISTMAS CAROL: COOKBOOK by Charles Dickens -- with recipe contributions from Giada DeLaurentiis, Ina Garten, Martha Stewart and Trisha Yearwood

De. Light. "Full". (hee hee hee)


Must have.

Classic Brit Lit.

The lit-iest.

Holly Jolly Menu.

With a cherry on top.

I bought this baby last year and I love it! Charles Dickens' famous holiday morality tale sprinkles the pages of this gilded guide as sugar sprinkles the festive recipes recommended by accomplished culinary artists.

Starters and 'horror'-vres accompany Marley's Ghost; a course of entrées visit the past with the first spirit; side dishes heap the second spirit's horn of plenty; and the last spirit whirls us into a future when we don't regret having that fourth serving of pecan pie.

If you enjoy whimsical fun topped with whipped hollandaise, check it out.


For my final entry of 2022, I'm going to let Thomas take the spotlight:

"Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-coloured snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up that long, steadily falling night.

"I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept."

And with that -- stay safe, hug your loved ones and best wishes as we move from one year to the next.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

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